Election 2016

He Ruins Everything: Trump Is Having a Negative Effect on the Workplace

A study finds the president's toxicity trickles down to office life.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

For better or for worse, American presidents influence U.S. culture. In the case of Donald Trump, it’s undoubtedly for the worse. The man who currently occupies the White House lies without hesitation, insults those he perceives as threats, brags about committing sex crimes against women, advocates for violence, and pushes racist and xenophobic untruths. His poisonous leadership has created a toxic atmosphere that permeates every aspect of American society. This includes the workplace, according to the findings of a recent survey.

Nearly 46 percent of Americans believe that “the brutish 2016 election campaigns negatively impacted the workplace,” according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. In an abstract subtitled “Trump Toxicity,” the organization notes that as a candidate, Trump “modeled bullying and [gave] license for others to forego norms of interpersonal civility and kindness.” The trickledown effect is leading to increasingly inhospitable workplaces and an increase in inappropriate behavior.

“It violates all the norms and the niceties of how one should behave,” Gary Namie, the head of the Workplace Bullying Institute, told Martha C. White of NBC News. “What it’s exposing is the very, very dark side of our society.”

White spoke to human resources staffers and workplace leaders who report observing the effects of Trump Toxicity among colleagues. They note an increase in Trump-reminiscent behaviors, “from dropping f-bombs to fudging details on resumes to spreading false rumors about co-workers, all of which stifles teamwork, dampens morale, and hurts productivity.”

Mike Letizia, the president of Letizia HR Solutions, told White he’s recently had to explain to his employees that Trump’s highly unpresidential behavior shouldn’t be replicated in the workplace (even though 63 million people believed it belonged in the White House). 

“Within my circle of clients there have been some behavioral changes on the part of employees. It has become more challenging for HR people to deal with some of the interpersonal behaviors that have come out,” Letizia told White. “We’ve had to do a lot more...talking to employees about the fact that the U.S. government and current administration in Washington, D.C. does not set the standard for professional behavior in the workplace.”

The consequences of electing a brash bully who publicly disrespects even his closest advisers, creates a daily disruption in the news cycle and punches down at every opportunity have already been visible in plenty of other areas.

“Trump is serving as a negative kind of role model,” Seth Spain, a professor at John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, told White. “They see his behavior, they see that it worked, it was effective, and use that as a model.”

The Trump administration’s hateful rhetoric toward racial, religious and other vulnerable groups is directly related to a documented rise in violent hate crimes. Emboldened by Trump, white nationalist groups have proliferated since last year. A Buzzfeed review of bullying incidents in elementary, middle and high schools around the country found a pattern of “white students using the president's words and slogans to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates.”

While the Workplace Bullying Institute survey didn’t specifically highlight Trump’s impact on workplace incidents involving racism or sexist harassment, it does note that there are vast disparities in precisely who is bullied in work spaces. Seventy percent of workplace abusers are men, while 66 percent of targets are women. African Americans and Hispanics are also bullied at higher rates than their peers. Any rise in bullying behaviors will have a disproportionate effect on women of all races and people of color.

Despite touting himself as the savior of business, Trump’s toxicity incurs all kinds of costs to companies. There’s the obvious human cost of having people feel unwelcome and even unsafe at work. But the problem also affects efficiency, which directly impacts the bottom line.

“The time it takes to address those situations takes away from other work to move strategic initiatives forward,” Robert Farmer, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, told White. “From there, it’s going to start to impact productivity and performance.”

“With more turnover, the cost to train people multiplies. You have to pay a lot more to recruit and train people so they can be productive employees,” career counselor Roy Cohen added.

Bloomberg notes that in response to workplace fallout from Trump’s election, there’s been “an uptick in employers and in-house counsel requests for civility training, as recommended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s proposed guidance on harassment.”

“Civility in the workplace really just boils down to clear, mindful and ethical communication,” said Maria Greco Danaher, who counsels HR departments and corporate management. “We’ve been treating post-election negative speech as a problem, but I think we’re being faced with an opportunity and an eye-opener that could really help us to use clear communication and mindful communication in a way to make businesses run more smoothly and make workplaces feel more efficient and effective to the people that are in them.”

Sure. It’s also a chance to send a clear message to workplace jerks that just because their president is a boorish ass doesn’t mean they can start pulling that stuff at work. Or something like that. 

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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